“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11; cf. Acts 19:21)
The evening after Paul spoke in front of the Sanhedrin, the risen Lord gave him a prophecy that he “must” [dei] testify in Rome. This prophecy no doubt encouraged Paul in his ensuing hardships keeping the faith and being a bold witness in order to fulfill God’s purposes in his ministry. It would be a few years before this prophecy was fulfilled. The implications this has on the belief in imminence are evident: Jesus would not return for his church during this period. God’s will during Paul’s ministry would not be to send his Son back to rapture the church. His will was for Paul to spread the good news of his Son throughout the regions of the Roman Empire. But not only in the Roman Empire, but to proclaim the gospel to Caesar himself.
“For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you.’” (Acts 27:23–24)
This prophecy was given to Paul during a storm on the sea as they were sailing to Rome. The prophesy states that Paul “must [dei] stand before Caesar” to testify of the gospel. God ordained that the Jewish apostle Paul would testify in front of the Gentile Roman Caesar, proclaiming the Name above all Names. So once again, this similar prophecy indubitably contradicts imminence theology. Jesus’ return was not imminent.
A possible objection to this (as well as to the prophecy about Peter’s death above) is the claim that God “secretly” gave Paul this prophecy, therefore imminence can still be intact. This is a strained and illogical attempt to maintain imminence for the following reasons: (1) the biblical fact remains that Jesus could not return before this prophecy took place; (2) it impugns the character of God by making him contradict himself, telling Paul one thing and the church the opposite; (3) the prophecy given to Paul was not kept in “secret.” He openly shared it to the ship’s crew in order to encourage them that God would keep them safe (Acts 27:23–26). And even if he had not shared the prophecy that would not make a difference one way or the other. The prophecy was a promise by God, and he would not break it.
I want to make one further point. Pretribulationism claims that Paul taught imminence in his first epistle to the Thessalonians. They reason that since Paul does not mention the great tribulation before the occurrence of the rapture in his epistle, therefore the rapture is imminent. Notwithstanding the glaring fallacy of this argument by silence, that was not the purpose for Paul writing his epistle. He was addressing the consternation of the Thessalonians who had loved ones that recently died. Paul was reassuring them that they would see them again. So there was no reason for Paul to address what would, or would not, happen before the rapture. That is a pretrib presupposition being read into the text. Ironically, it would be his second epistle to the Thessalonians where he teaches that the Antichrist will arrive before the rapture. But here is my point: How could Paul be teaching imminence in First Thessalonians since years later after he penned the epistle he would receive a prophecy from the Lord stating that he would testify in Rome before Caesar? In other words, the prophecies about him testifying in Rome contradicts that Paul was teaching imminence in his Thessalonian epistle.
In conclusion, these prophecy about Paul testifying in Rome undermines the notion that the rapture could happen during Paul’s ministry before he testified in Rome before Caesar. The Roman wheels of justice moved slowly, so it would take, not days, weeks, or months, before he would testify, but years (Acts 28:11, 30). This is another prophecy that relates to the first generation of the church contradicting imminence theology.